Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post reported today that the District of Columbia’s red light camera program has resulted in more than 500,000 violations and generated $32 million in fines over the past six years without making the roads any safer.

The Post found that there were 365 collisions in 1998 the year prior to the camera program compared to 755 last year. Injuries and fatal crashes increased from 144 to 262 in the same period an 81 percent increase. Broadside crashes rose from 81 to 106 in the same time period. Compare this to intersections with a traffic signal but no camera where collisions increased 64 percent, injuries and fatal crashes up 54 and broadside accidents were up 17 percent and it doesn’t appear the cameras are doing anything but improving the revenues for the District. Their cut of the $75 fine came to $5 million last year.

While these statistics look bad, supporters of the cameras cite a Federal Highway Administration study which found that red light cameras reduce the more serious broadside crashes by 25 percent though rear end collisions increased by 15 percent. This seems to be more of is the glass half empty or half full argument. One thing that wasn’t mentioned or studied is the Districts installation of timers at intersections. The idea is to give pedestrians a better idea of how much time they have left to cross the street safely. The unintended consequence is that is in my casual observation it also contributes to more drivers trying to “beat the clock” which can be very dangerous.

I personally don’t like the red light cameras, but D.C. residents have it easy compared to those that live in neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland. The county has fewer cameras than D.C. but with the new models that have been installed in the last year they can also detect supposed violators of the right turn on red law. Why don’t we just make it easy for our government and install a device on our car that will automatically detect when we drive too fast or run a light and issue a ticket on the spot through an onboard computer. Far fetched? I’m not so sure.

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